FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Falcons have some extra time this week to prepare for their Monday night matchup with the Buccaneers, and the team has shifted its practice schedule back a day to stay sharp. With only three games remaining and the playoffs in sight, Atlanta can't afford to focus on anything but the upcoming rivalry game against Tampa Bay.
Today's Early Bird Report includes Dirk Koetter's creative plan to covering Julio Jones as well as the possibility that Gerald McCoy suits up for the Buccaneers on Monday night. Enjoy!
FALCONS HEADLINES FROM AROUND THE COUNTRY
The Associated Press: Falcons aim to repeat late rush, but it feels different
Through the first 13 games of the season, the Falcons (8-5) have the exact same record they did at this time last year. As Matt Winkeljohn of the AP notes, however, this year feels different. Three games lie between Atlanta and a second straight NFC South division title, but there's no guarantee the Falcons catch fire to finish out the season like in 2016, especially with two games remaining against the Saints and Panthers.
"That does nothing. You've spent that money. You've got to go earn new money, man," safety Ricardo Allen told Winkeljohn. "That does nothing for you. We're playing different teams at different times in different locations.
"You can take it that we've done it before, but you've still got to put the work in; it just doesn't transfer. It's not like rollover minutes."
*Atlanta Journal-Constitution: *Koetter plans to use 'Cover 10' on Julio
After exploding for 253 yards and two touchdowns in the Falcons' Week 12 win over the Bucs, Julio Jones may see a good deal more coverage rolled his way. In fact, as D. Orlando Ledbetter writes for the *AJC, *Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter may just use a vast majority of the defense to cover the Falcons' All-Pro receiver.
"We're going to put 10 guys on him and then just leave one guy over the center," Koetter said during a conference call on Thursday. "You think Atlanta would do anything if we did that?
"That's about what it would take. I've seen Julio have a couple other games like that when I was there. When Julio gets that hot… Julio is good all the time. But when he gets that hot, it's tough to stop him."
Here is some more news on the Falcons heading into the weekend:
NEWS ON THE FALCONS' OPPONENT: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
*USA Today: *Justin Evans says Julio Jones is 'everything you want in a receiver'
Tampa Bay knows full well what Julio Jones is capable of, and he's earned plenty of respect from the Falcons' rival. In talking with Bonnie Mott of USA Today, Bucs rookie safety Justin Evans revealed just how highly he thinks of Jones.
"Once you actually play him you get to really see for yourself," Evans told Mott of Jones. "It's fun because it's a challenge. He's big, physical, fast, great hands, he can back up routes – whatever you would want in a guy and a receiver. That's why he's so great."
Buccaneers.com: Gerald McCoy not having surgery on biceps, hopes to play
Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy exited the Bucs game against the Lions early with a biceps injury, which was initially thought to require surgery. Now, it appears McCoy's injury will need nothing more than rehab, according to Scott Smith of the team's official website. While it still seems unlikely, McCoy reportedly wants to try to play again this season, possibly for Monday night's game.
"Nobody likes going under the knife," McCoy told Smith. "It's not fun. So that's definitely a blessing. I'm just going to keep rehabbing it and do my best. I would like to be [ready for Monday] but I don't know yet. Let's take it day by day and see what happens."
Here is some more news on the Bucs:
- *AP: *Bucs potential spoilers for Falcons, Saints, Panthers
- *USA TODAY: *Mike Smith: We're a better team when McCoy is out there
- *Tampa Bay Times: *If you were Jon Gruden, what would you do?
BIGGEST NEWS FROM AROUND THE NFC SOUTH
*Sports Illustrated: *Panthers' defense thriving under Steve Wilks' blitz-heavy ways
Despite Sean McDermott's departure to become the head coach in Buffalo, the Panthers' defense has not missed a beat. Carolina remains among the best defensive units in the NFL, and the presence of coordinator Steve Wilks has helped them stay at such a high level. While McDermott didn't blitz often, Wilks has employed an entirely different approach. According to Jonathan Jones of *SI, *who cites date from Pro Football Focus, the Panthers' defense is blitzing on 43 percent of their defensive snaps this year, which is second in the NFL.
*The Times-Picayune: *Saints anticipate Alvin Kamara playing Sunday
According to Herbie Teope of *The Times-Picayune, *Saints head coach Sean Payton seemed hopeful that star rookie running back Alvin Kamara would return to the field this weekend after going through the league's concussion protocol. Teope reports that Kamara was a full participant in practice on Wednesday and Payton continued to feed into the optimism.
"We all anticipate him playing," Payton said, according to Teope. "That's the expectation."
Here is some more news from around the division:
- *Times-Picayune: *Saints claim LB Jonathan Freeny, waive Sterling Moore
- *USA TODAY: *Panthers' first injury report for Week 15 is very long
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